back to article Astronomers battle plague of BLADE-WIELDING ROBOTS

Radio astronomers have moved to block the roll-out of an army of robotic lawnmowers in a submission to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The boffins claim that iRobot's deployment of the machines will interfere with their federally-funded radio astronomy. iRobot, well known for the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner but …

  1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Why don't these companies choose any one of the bands already free for use, rather than pissing on other's established usage and then asking for rules to be changed due to their own incompetence?

    1. tony2heads

      @Paul Crawford

      I just wish I had more upvotes to give you.

      1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Re: @Paul Crawford

        "I just wish I had more upvotes to give you."

        That's OK. By posting, you've given me a second place where I can upvote the sentiment. Ta!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Should be using optics

      These guys (and others, like traffic light sensors) are just

      a) Lazy

      b) Trying to cut costs.

      c) Think they are more special than any other company.

      Ban them and fine them till it HURTS. There is an increasing amount of this arrogance. Home Power Networking kit that's really a transmitter! Hint: works of UPS / Battery inverter and still networks without the mains. They are not EU or FCC approved as radio gadgets, they either only plug one in or test pair with no data. They want the rules changed too to allow "more interference"! Then the CFL / LED electronic PSU / Ballast makers, charger makers, TV makers, PSU makers will want the new relaxed rules too. (which often are not enforced, maker puts wire links instead of filters after approval).

  2. W T Riker


    Has anyone asked Methanol if it can move it's frequency to something else like: 8.123Ghz. Or, maybe the Astronomers could point their radio telescopes at the sky rather than someone's back garden....

    1. Lee D

      Re: Methanol

      Though you can certainly "point" a radio telescope, that's like "pointing" your wifi - you'll see more signal from that direction but you'll still collect from a complete sphere of emissions near you too.

      Question: Why does the Roomba need fixed beacons, and why do they have to be radio, and why can't they operate in unlicensed frequencies (I know the answer to the last one - because then anyone could make a cheap Roomba beacon...)?

      "So hi-tech, you need to stake out the garden with radio kit so it doesn't bump into stuff"

      1. Eddy Ito

        Re: Methanol

        Clearly they can't operate it in the 2.4 GHz band since that runs the risk of having the lawnmower develop "a thing" for the microwave oven and the last thing we need is the autonomous radiation spitting mechanical samurai hellspawn that would undoubtedly be the result of such a union.

        If only there was a way of creating some sort of invisible fence by some simple means like laying a wire in the ground.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Methanol

          "If only there was a way of creating some sort of invisible fence by some simple means like laying a wire in the ground."

          Mine is into its sixth year, Roomba should back off and stick to floor cleaning.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Methanol

            If only there was a way of having a physical fence.

            Like some sort of wire above ground attached to regularly spaced white painted vertical wooden stakes.

        2. Mephistro

          Re: Methanol (@ Eddy Ito)

          "If only there was a way of creating some sort of invisible fence by some simple means like laying a wire in the ground"

          Or better yet, a visible fence made with some sticks and stickers in shiny colours, that the lawn mover could read with a camera and a simple artificial vision app.

          I guess that for iRobot, the biggest issue with this later approach is that people would be able to make their own 'beacons' with an inkjet printer, instead of purchasing them from iRobot at inflated prices.

          I hope this 'design decision' bites them in the ass. With extreme prejudice.

        3. Mike Richards

          Re: Methanol

          'If only there was a way of creating some sort of invisible fence by some simple means like laying a wire in the ground.'

          Or the IR beacons Roomba already uses.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Methanol

      EXACTLY! Never was there a clearer case of "give an inch and take a mile" - these unworldly boffins, emboldened as they are by draining the public funding teat of its vital essence, now want to deny us all the fundamental right to an immaculate lawn at the least possible effort! I put it to you, not even in Soviet Russia was this specific blatant denial of human rights attempted!

      And why? So we can "better understand" the cosmos!? It's high time we stopped just looking at the laws of physics and started changing them.

      1. Matt Piechota

        Re: Methanol

        "EXACTLY! Never was there a clearer case of "give an inch and take a mile" - these unworldly boffins, emboldened as they are by draining the public funding teat of its vital essence, now want to deny us all the fundamental right to an immaculate lawn at the least possible effort! I put it to you, not even in Soviet Russia was this specific blatant denial of human rights attempted!"

        In Soviet Russia, the lawn mows you.

    3. W T Riker

      Re: Methanol

      I was only kidding with you guys. Anyway, the lawyers for Methanol have already been in touch and are saying they had prior IP on that frequency. :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Methanol

        It's a tough crowd - give them irony, they demand satire. Treat them to a bon mot, see it spurned for lacking badinage...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are they "iRobot's" an Apple Subsidiary / associated company

    They Sure Act like it

    if Not Cue the Fruity legal team >speed dial SUE

  4. ElectricFox

    Move the radio telescopes to California

    With the drought they're having, there will be no need for robotic lawnmowers.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Total BS that we even have to be having this conversation

    The FCC is a federal regulatory agency and a lot of the funding these scientists get comes from the same federal government. You'd think that that government would want to protect its investment by limiting interference like this. But no, as an agency that's captive to the business interests that fund Congressional campaigns, they too often siding with those interests.

    Of course we could say the same about light pollution and so many other environmental factors that are theoretically under the control of governments. In almost every case opportunities to either roll back or eliminate that kind of interference are lost in favor of short sighted, selfish, private gain.

    All so that truckloads of robot lawnmowers can wind up on eBay after the company that made them goes under and is liquidated.

  6. Anonymous Coward


    Just make em cut the bleedin grass in the day...

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: Meh

      Three downvoters didn't see the Joke Alert! icon.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Meh @Martin Budden

        Thank god that there is, at least, intelligent life here..

  7. paulc

    let me guess...

    these manufacturers can't use RFIDs because someone has already patented their use for laying out a defined area... and they're just too cheapskate to stump up the fees to use it...

  8. JamesPond


    In the UK similar systems use a perimeter wire that the mower detects and roll won't over, which seems a lot more flexible in allowing different shaped gardens, as well as not causing any radio interference. Are all US gardens rectangular and if not, how does the system cope with, for example, a circular lawn?

    1. dorsetknob

      Re: Cable

      Good old Petrol mower attached to a chain and staked in the middle of the lawn

      It goes Round and round on its own

      got to be a V8 engine mower for that tough USA grasswhat with all those hidden illegal Mexican illegals

      Beer because ya got time if its mowing by its'self

  9. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Slippery Slope Time Again

    Ok.. a lawnmower might be innocuous usage. But what is the next intrusion of bandwidth? Someone doing something more powerful and not just interfering with radio telescopes? There's a reason the spectrum has been divided up and regulated. iRobot seems to have no regard for others usage of the spectrum. I would hope the FCC will do the proper thing and quash this.

    Not all lawns are rectangular. The buried wire/cable is a great option, but most homeowners don't want the hassle of ripping up the perimeter, planting the wire/cable, and restoring the landscaping. And for many it's an expensive proposition to have someone else do it.

    iRobot might think they have a one-size-fits-all solution but they have their "greed" blinders on and aren't thinking this through.

  10. Joe User

    The simple solution

    Tell the lazy bums to get off their fat butts and mow their yards the old-fashioned way.

    1. hplasm

      Re: The simple solution

      How about drones that are attracted to the beacons and crop-spray the area with Agent Orange ( Tartrazine Free, of course). All problems solved and an extra head for free.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Hissing of Summer Lawns ... someone should write a song about that.

  12. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    "iRobot has reviewed comments filed by the NRAO and believe that there is an infinitesimal likelihood that the proposed RLM system will impact any radio astronomy measurements."

    I wonder if these guys know what infinitesimal means to an engineer. Actually, no, I don't wonder that at all. They clearly don't and therefore should be totally ignored on any question that requires even a modicum of technical knowledge.

  13. Gordon861

    Surely with modern GPS systems the accuracy should have improved to the point where it can work out what garden it's in. Also couldn't you use a local wifi, with a known location, to work out the local corrections to improve the accuracy.

    Add to this gyros to help the accuracy and a forward facing radar/sonar to stop it driving into things and you should be sweet.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      It could be done.. but it wouldn't be cheap to produce and thus limit their market and, most importantly, their profit.

  14. Florida1920


    That is all.

    1. Adam Foxton

      Re: Astroturf

      Not quite

      I have a job that requires lots of travel for short periods of time, so when I bought my house I tore up the lawn and replaced it with AstroTurf.

      I've since done no maintenance to it, what with it being UV resistant plastic and all, but have recently found that it's covered in weeds!

      Gardening with a bucket of weedkiller once every 2 years isn't much of a problem, I guess...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Astroturf

      Astronomy-friendly lawn substitute keeps wayward drones off methanol's EM turf. Film at eleven.

      But seriously who "designs" a wireless thing in the forbidden band? Were they throwing darts?

  15. Alistair

    LHC lawn maintenance staff have purchased a fleet of Irobot Lawn Maintenance devices in order to reduce labour costs maintaining the grounds around the various above ground structures. This will save thousands of $ in annual maintenance costs.

    Headline :

    French astronomers detect new stars forming around the LHC "We're ALL DOOMED I tell ya".

    queue next round of media fired terrorism.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Robots interfering with radio communications?

    I guess its Skynet siezing control of strategic communications before it launches Judgment Day!

    (Not a problem as long as my lawn looks good)

  17. Conundrum1885

    Re Robots interfering with radio communications?

    Its very hard to find a band which isn't being used these days.

    Apparently for a while military stuff used the 22 GHz band until they found out that a lot of door openers threw a wobbly when jets/helis went overhead or trucks went past.

    These days all sorts of strange wavelengths have been proposed including really obscure ones like the hydrogen band as this is already saturated with noise but modern techniques such as PRNG timesync can get around this.

    ie signal + known noise TX -------- RX - known noise = signal.

    Some newer el cheapo walkie talkies apparently use this method as a very basic PRNG is well within the capabilities of a simple micro such as the PIC 18F series or for that matter a Tiny22.

    Plus its highly secure because the signal looks exactly like noise :-)

  18. Jonl


    Methanol sued for tramping over iRobot frequencies.

  19. TRT Silver badge

    Methanol is a key component

    in the chain of complex organic molecule formation which could potentially indicate the location of organic life in space. It's vital that this research is not cut short. Someone should tell Roomba, we are not a lawn.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    It's Only Fair

    Drinking Methanol will blind you (at the very least) hide the methanol by using a robotic lawn mower - we are all winners - yay!

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